Bamako – Mali gathered regional heads-of-state, government officials and armed groups on Friday for a largely ceremonial signing of a peace accord expected to go ahead without the main Tuareg-led rebel alliance.
The Co-ordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) initialled the document in Algiers on Thursday but has demanded concessions and says it will not attend Friday’s ceremony in Malian capital Bamako to rubber-stamp the deal.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who chairs the African Union, arrived in Bamako on Friday morning and was expected to be followed by around 20 heads of government and state from across the region.
The ceremony – which follows months of UN-backed negotiations — is going ahead against the odds amid repeated recent violations of a ceasefire deal between the army and various pro-government and rebel militias.
The international community had attempted to persuade at least some rebel groups within the CMA to sign the accord but the rebel alliance was expected to present a united front in boycotting the ceremony.
Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra, whose government has sponsored the peace process, said after the deal was initialled on Thursday that it was a case of “mission accomplished but not over”.
He said he was “aware that the situation on the ground does not lead to optimism but it requires international mediation to appeal to everyone’s sense of responsibility”.
He added that he had received a message from Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita who he said was “reaching out [to the rebels] and is ready discuss with them at any time the future of the country, the future of the northern regions and the rigorous implementation of the agreement”.
“Initialling is a sign of good faith to move towards a final, comprehensive and lasting solution but further adjustments are needed before signing,” rebel representative Almou Ag Mohamed added.
Another CMA member, Sidi Brahim Oud Sidat, said there would be further negotiations on the alliance’s political and security demands.
“Once these requests are met, we will sign the agreement,” he said.
Mali was shaken by a coup in 2012 which cleared the way for Tuareg separatists to seize the towns and cities of the vast northern desert.
Militants linked to Al-Qaeda then overpowered the Tuareg to take control of northern Mali for nearly 10 months, imposing a brutal interpretation of Islamic law with punitive amputations and executions.
A French-led military offensive ousted the militants but the Tuareg rebels and Islamist militants remain active throughout the northeast of the country.
The country remains deeply divided with the Tuareg and Arab populations of the north accusing sub-Saharan ethnic groups in the more prosperous south of marginalising them.
Northern Mali has seen an upsurge in attacks by pro-government militias and various factions of the Tuareg-led rebellion, leaving many dead on both sides.
The peace agreement calls for the creation of elected regional assemblies but not autonomy or federalism, in deference to the concerns of the government about separatism.
The CMA has said it will not accept a deal without an amendment recognising “Azawad”, the name used by the Tuareg for the northern part of Mali, as a “geographic, political and juridical entity”.
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